As ever, my mother’s hair hung down in a long, bleached platinum sheet while she held anachronistic court in our small, 1970s Spanish-style stucco ranch house with the sunken living room. Usually I would come inside to find her absently cleaning, singing quietly to herself, invariably one of two songs: “Send in the Clowns,” or “White Christmas.” I could slink under the medieval-style dining table and pop my head up, all white-haired like my mother’s artificially-created version, but mine the fluffy fly-away of a preschooler. (Someday I would be artificially platinum, too, then eventually aqua, pink, and sometimes alternating between the three. But we didn’t know any of that then.) I’d peer left and right, just out of a simple instinct for self-preservation, and stealthily take a bite from the rectangle of margarine that sat, cold and covered, and top it off with a spoonful from the sugar dispenser, and she would be in a fugue state of placid domesticity, unaware.
But on one such day I had been out with the kids in the neighborhood, and made the egregious error of coming in for a cup of Hi-C, (which we possessed in excess as it was manufactured by Coca Cola, my father’s employer.) You see, we’d been doing this thing, this thing where we had turned our banana-seat bicycles upside-down and were using the tires like bench grinders, spinning them as fast as we could, working together to get the wheel going so fast the spokes were a blur, at first carving half circles and then moving on into increasingly complex creations, using the spinning tires to bite crescent shapes into thick magnolia leaves. And the sticks, stems, and discarded drinking straws, reclaimed, held out to make that thwap-thwap-thwap in the spokes.
My mother, in almost supernatural fashion, swiveled and spotted a hole forming in the knee of my jeans and sent me to my bedroom: “strip them off and put something else on.” I knew better than to plead delay, just until the fun was over or fading at least, just please, let me not have made this mistake of coming in for a drink? The fact that she she spotted me was rare but always seemed to happen when something was out of order or unacceptably grubby. Foiled! Now not only would my fun be interrupted, but from now on these soft jeans would have a stiff ironed-on patch with just slightly rounded corners, a reminder that fun has its limits, and those limits make it hard to bend your knee. A mother’s care is spookily unavoidable but also scratchy, uncomfortable, pragmatic, and must be instantaneously accepted.